Just a Job? Or Something More?

Tom Caley

Tom Caley

Tom is Evolve’s Head of Product Development & Innovation, and is a passionate advocate for people and customer experience, with a focus on unlocking the potential in others.

I love my job. I’m not just saying that, I do—and I know how lucky I am to be able to say so.

It hasn’t always been the case: I can look back at any number of McJobs (©Douglas Coupland) I held in my formative years; often character building but not conducive to a love of work. It’s taken me a long time to understand my own strengths and motivators enough to be able to aim, in more recent years for roles in which I could truly thrive.

Very broadly, I can split the jobs I’ve held into 2 categories. One the one hand those which were “just a job” and functioned purely to enable my life outside of work. On the other, those roles which became passions, blurring the boundaries between “work” and “life” and creating a relationship with my employer that extended beyond the perfunctory and transactional.

I’ve written previously how important great leadership has been at the inflection points along my career path. If I think about what other factors have influenced the transition in my own mind around what a career can actually mean, I think of autonomy, license to exercise creativity, a sense of broader purpose in my work and collaboration with excellent colleagues.

But what of everyone else? Over the last 4 months, some of my excellent colleagues and I have been establishing an Australian employee engagement survey, asking people to rate their likelihood to recommend their workplace and for their reasons.

To date over 2,000 people, employed across 22 industries have responded and we’ve applied text analytics to understand what’s driving (or eroding) engagement in Australia. Some of our initial findings can be read here.

In interpreting people’s comments, there is a clear division between the perfunctory and transactional—it’s just a job—and those higher order elements which suggest a more complex and ultimately more engaged space.

In fact, stacking the comment themes in ascending order of results in something that quite resembles a hierarchy of needs. At the base of the pyramid, those universal factors which matter in any type of job—the social interplay with colleagues, the environment, the day to day tasks—and at the top, more rarefied concepts—accomplishment, innovation—which might be “unlocked” as the employer/employee relationship deepens.

Australian employee infographic

The highest-rated dimensions* are those experienced by the fewest people. Core Values (8.4), Accomplishment (8.3), Work/ Life Balance (8.3) and Future Thinking & Innovation (8.0): all enviable attributes but ones that only feature in 3% of comments. Does this feel right, in Australia, in 2017?

Some of the key enabling organisational factors rank at the negative end of the scale: Change Management (4.9), Recognition (5.1), Communication (5.2), Enabling Infrastructure (5.9), Coordination & Integration (6.4) and Leadership(6.3).

Evolve recently conducted research on behalf of 6 Degrees who call out a leadership “crisis in corporate Australia” and these findings certainly align with that position. Australians are citing a lack of support, absent and disconnected leadership as well as poor decision making.

Of course, it’s always easy to criticise those entrusted with power but are workplace leaders actually connecting and communicating with their people well or often enough to provide context for that they do or the decisions they make?

What I also find interesting is that all these attributes are more impactful than Pay (7.0). You could argue that any of those negative drivers listed above would—on the face of it—cost nothing to address except time and focus.

Irrespective of how closely you subscribe to the idea of the Service Profit Chain, surely it doesn’t make intuitive sense to allow negative sentiment to fester around such fundamentally important aspects of the workplace experience.

So, what to do? As an employee—or just a person in general—you might like to try the VIA Character Strengths survey and see how well you understand your own strengths. Does your role allow you to play to these?

As colleagues, what do we contribute to the culture of our workplace? What kind of energy do we bring to the mix and, if we are embedded in roles which don’t align with our core strengths—even if it is “just a job”—how might we be enriching or depressing the working lives of those around us? And it stands to reason that this applies to those we interact with in our lives outside of work…

And as an employer or leader—how well are you connected to the ebb and flow of engagement in your team or organisation? How much time and energy do you spend on understanding and fixing issues impacting on your people? Even in the absence of an employee listening programme an open, authentic conversation can go a long, long way. What are the payoffs in fostering engagement and unlocking the creativity and contributions of your people?

We all have a role to play within our own complex work ecosystems. Engagement isn’t solely the responsibility of leaders but—as one of those entrusted with the ability and therefore the responsibility to “do something about it”, do you feel you are doing enough?

*Dimension (or category) scores are derived from the associated advocacy scores for comments which contain keywords relating to each dimension. 0-10 scale with 10 being most positive.

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